Marching Forward

University Issues: Though Friday's riot was an utter embarrassment to the campus, we endorse the still-needed peaceful protests of March 4.

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In the early hours of Friday morning, opportunity struck: Opportunity for drunks and wannabe radicals to destroy public property, act foolish and harass police with virtually no consequences. Under the premise of revolting against the system, a few dozen people managed to not only stain UC Berkeley's reputation in the national consciousness but also greatly hinder the cause of legitimate organizers against fee hikes.

Without hesitation, we strongly condemn the vandalism of the Durant Hall occupation and the overall stupidity of the Southside riot. These actions were neither justifiable nor appropriate. And there's no point to pretending that those "activists" were advancing any cause other than an opportunistic and farcical anti-capitalist crusade. These rioters don't represent us or the vast majority of students on this campus.

Friday was just the latest manifestation of the extreme element in the student movement; it's one that's frequently emerged just as protests have begun drawing smaller crowds. Sure, extreme actions will generate media coverage (for all the wrong reasons), but so will having the numbers to back your cause up. Only when many students actively support this cause will it be successful, and events like the Southside riot have pushed this success further and further out of reach.

Understandably, the riot drew major media attention from regional and national outlets. Lacking much prior knowledge of the recent protests, outside commentators have framed the riot as just one more expression of student anger about the running of this university.

This assumption is completely untrue. Preliminary investigation suggests that many participants in the occupation and subsequent riot were not UC Berkeley students. Though there may have been an element of anger about fee increases, many were simply opportunists, who wanted to join in the atmosphere of lawlessness.

Debunking this falsehood is of utmost importance for the success of future protests. And key in separating true activists for education from the rioting idiots is the outright condemnation of Friday's events by activists. Groups like SAVE the University and The Solidarity Alliance, among others, should have quickly put out an official statement against Friday's violence and vandalism. Though individual members have said they don't advocate the tactics used by rioters, without official condemnation, many students will likely disassociate themselves from future activities.

Police response to the riot, which involved seven law enforcement agencies, was far from perfect. They should have announced via megaphone that the crowd was an illegal assembly to disperse onlookers and focus on the true troublemakers. Berkeley police and UCPD could have coordinated better earlier in the night, so as to mount a quicker and more effective response as the riot escalated.

But, overall, the police handled themselves quite well and maintained professional conduct despite their surroundings. In the past, both sides have made mistakes: the police by stepping over the line in dealing with the Wheeler occupation and activists in continuing to provoke harsh responses by police. Especially in preparation for March 4, the police must have a solid, executable plan in place to deal with crowd control on a mass scale-one that keeps the peace without provoking the hostility of activists.

Though we've supported activities like those planned for March 4 all along, Friday's events make the strike an absolute necessity to mobilize support and educate the public. Now that the riot has delegitimized the cause to an extent, March 4 will be a pivotal day to turn the tide of the status quo and convince legislators (and taxpayers) of the unparalleled value of public education.

We hope one day of massive, peaceful protest will draw national attention to the issue-a possibility that can be achieved only if students, faculty and others publicly manifest their support through active participation. We urge students on this campus and throughout the UCs, Cal State University campuses and community colleges to march and protest to the best of their ability.

Similarly, faculty should cancel or reschedule classes to allow students to engage in this valuable state-wide demonstration, or at least be sympathetic to students who miss class because they were protesting.

Keeping public education public is worth missing a day of class.

Especially in light of the riot, participants must keep their behavior under control and avoid extreme tactics that could undermine the overall success of the movement. With mass protests, the possibility of violence and extremism can never really be eliminated, but the majority of participants must remain peaceful. To ensure this, protest leaders must explicitly denounce past violence as well as condemn any future violent acts.

March 4 can be a day for students to reclaim this movement from the ridiculous rioters who have disgraced this cause. By setting an example of meaningful and peaceful protest, students and faculty of this university can reverse the damage done on Friday and solidify in the public's mind that the true advocates of this cause are passionate, non-violent and educated individuals. This advocacy is what should shine through on Thursday, and is the only means to prove this cause worthy of taxpayer dollars.

Tags: MARCH PROTESTS, SOUTHSIDE RIOT, UCPD, BERKELEY POLICE DEPARTMENT






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